Written by Bob Elliott, Extension educator, Androscoggin and Sagadahoc Counties. First printed in the Winter 2000 issue of the Extension CORD (a newsletter for UMaine Extension employees).
What Does Valuing Diversity Mean?
Valuing diversity is sometimes viewed in our culture as being about winners and losers; if one group gains rights or powers, another group must lose rights or powers. Valuing diversity is not about winning or losing, but about inclusion and empowerment, wholeness and colleagueship. It’s about providing equal opportunity, treatment, and encouragement to all. It’s about all people being encouraged to become all that they can be, and about removing barriers that interfere with that potential.
If we are to succeed in this, we must understand our own biases and behaviors, learned through growing up in this culture. Diversity work is not about blame, but about seeking the truth on how we consciously and unconsciously grant privilege to some and oppress and limit others. It is about how we consciously and unconsciously grant privilege to some and oppress and limit others. We, individually and collectively, can change our beliefs and behaviors to truly honor and draw strength from our human differences.
In diversity work, human differences that may exert an impact on us in the workplace or larger society are often viewed as existing in primary and secondary dimensions. While each dimension adds a layer of complexity, it is the dynamic interaction among all these differences that influences one’s self-image, values, opportunities and expectations in the world. Together, the primary and secondary dimensions give definition and meaning to our lives by contributing to a synergistic, integrated whole — the diverse person.
Primary dimensions, those in the inner circle, are aspects of who we are that are inborn, genetic, and nearly immutable. Secondary dimensions, those in the outer circle, are somewhat more changeable but are very definite aspects of who we are and of how we are perceived by others. Any and all of these dimensions can be the basis of our being judged, by ourselves and by others. They affect whether we are, in the terminology of last fall’s diversity workshops, “tops, middles or bottoms” in our culture, and thus affect our treatment by others and our ability to achieve in the world.
Those of us who are “tops,” that is, those who gain privilege in our culture because of our specific core dimensions, often find it hard to imagine how others are not happy in this culture. For tops, awareness of their own dimensions (differences) practically disappears.
For example, our age has a bearing on how we are perceived by ourselves and by others, as well as on our ability to learn, relate to our environment, and contribute at work. Whatever age group we fall into, our age is a key factor in shaping our opportunities. Young and middle-aged adults may be said to be “tops” in our culture. We “tops” are usually unaware of the influence of age until we are denied an opportunity, or can no longer participate in an important activity because of our age.
The elderly, “bottoms” in terms of age, maybe much more aware of how this aspect of their diversity affects their lives. In similar ways, those individuals who are bottoms in our culture in terms of any dimension of their diversity are reminded every day of how that aspect affects their treatment by others and hinders their ability to become all that they might be. Take a look at the Core Dimensions of Diversity Wheel above, and think and talk with others about how any of the dimensions play out in your life and in the lives of the people with whom you work.
- Ethnic heritage
- Mental and physical abilities and characteristics
- Sexual orientation
- Parental status
- Military experience
- Body size
- Marital status
- Social-economic class
- Organizational role and level
- Communication style
- Political affiliation
- Geographic location
- Personality type
- Workstyle Education
- First language